There was no good reason for it, being a warm summers evening with the last of the sun grasping at the sky, an almost surreal red cloudscape above a green landscape, dotted with scattered copses of old Elm and Oak completing this most bucolic of scenes. But the elf had always had this reaction when someone else, usually nearby, was preparing to use either Magick or the Art. It had been a forewarning useful in the past, although as Roache would occasionally remind his companion Cwoss, it was a fecking pain in the arse when, say, pouring a cup of tea on horseback. Roache on the whole was pragmatic about it though.
And besides which, it was not necissarily a bad thing, that someone else was doing something somewhere. The Old Man had shown him in fact, that it was easier to draw from ones self when in the company, albeit distant, of those who follow the same path.
The fire was built, only awaiting it's lighting. Cwoss was involved in his evening's reading, and had insicated a couple of hours would be spent thus. They had eaten, and tidied up, and the elf could think of nothing now that might have been missed, that might twitch his attention once he had begun.
He sat before the fire, or that which would become their fire.
"Yes alright.."muttered Cwoss without looking up from his reading, "I'll light it in a few minutes or so.."
Roache nodded, and then began the process that as he put it 'turned him inside out'. The elf went past the confines of his body using a technique that was really nothing like 'astral projection'. It was more akin to stepping into a small elevator, that lifted his mind in a mater of nanoseconds to a vast height, in some utterly different dimension.
It had always been something he found words too few to describe. But what it aloowed him to do was to follow the Ley, and gauge their strength. Even that word was not quite right, for it allowed him to see their wellbeing, the state of their health. These lines of elemental power were all he needed to guide himself ever towards the source of his destiny.
Not that the elf was particularly keen to follow his star, so to speak. It was more of something irrisistable, a compulsion to move ever south, always within a few miles of the Sea. This had been his path ever since he had left the Old Man behind, found Cwoss, and started down that dusty road so many months ago.
He looked down at the now familiar lines spread beneath him, pulsing with the power they channeled, glowing in the reddish dark that filled the rest of his view. The main line, as he saw it, continued precisely in the direction he had himself been following for weeks on end.
But this time, there was a difference. Roache would have sat back and done a double-take, had he had a body to lean back with and a head to twizzle about, for still a good distance away but perfectly visible, he saw the end of the Ley, as it appeared to drop into a hole in the 'landscape'. The elf marvelled at the sight for a moment or two, it being likea vast golden waterfall tumbling to unseen stygian depths.
Then the elf did metaphisically flinch, for he felt the sudden pull of something, someone, in the hole, trying to reach him. For the first time, Roache knew what the books were talking about when they desribed 'fear'.
Roache pulled himself with a snap back into the normal world with an almost audible wrench. Sweating and shivering in earnest, he reached behind himself for his pack, and pulling his grey clak over his shoulders, he huddled in puzzlement, mulling over whatinhell he'd seen.
Cwoss, still reading, looked over the top of the massive book he held, his eyes narrowing in concern when he saw his friend. He moved to replace the book in his pack, and poured a cup of tea, handing it to the elf while asking " What's the problem here? You've never come back like this before..jaysus you're as white as a ghost! You haven't lost your Ley or anything daft like that..?"
It took the elf a moment or two, while his teeth regained sufficient control to resist an imitation of spastic castanets, but after a sip or two of the tea and several long draws from a bowl of pipeweed Cwoss had also thoughtfully provided, he looked at his friend with disbielief.
"There's something wrong with the ether. Something dragging the Ley into a bloody great hole just south of us, and something else that seems to be coming up. And it knows me! It touched my mind while I was out there, and I don't know how to get it's smell off me now..!"
Roache sagged back, suddenly and thoroughly exhausted, and Cwoss moved further around the fire to sit beside the elf. His concern was obvious and genuine, but his interest was more insistent.
"What's this now..? Something in a hole..? Where..?!"
"Not sure tell the truth. Distances mean little to me when I'm out there, but it's still to the south of us, a couple of days away at least.."
"Hmmm..." Cwoss rocked back on a low stool he had somehow managed to bring along with him, and rummaged through his pack.
"There might be something in thse notes..I recall something they told us about a hole..nasty one.. smoke..one of the South's Tourist Must's.. an mad elf..boom!.." The clerics mutterings became less and less audible as his head went deeper and deeper into the pack containing his books. He pulled out a thick old tome, somehow somewhat covered in dust, and blowing the detrius into the genral atmosphere be began quickly leafing through it's pages.
"There it is..!" Cwoss held out the book proudly, showing off a sketch of what was indeed a bloody big hole in the ground, belching thick smoke, which did bear a starteling resemblance to what the elf had seen in the ether. "Corwins Keep, destroyed by it's eponymous creator when his mistress buggered off with some nasty called G'RizNak and stole the Sheild of Morak..whateverthehell that might be..". The cleric muttered along for a moment, scanning the pages with a skill which quite impressed Roache..
"There!.." pointed Cwoss. "Blasted through some what...several thousand feet of solid rock..bugger..!"
Roache twisted sideways, so as to see his friends face more clearly in the firelight, searching for more information.
"Corwin's near here? Jaysus man I've been hearing that name for years and now you're telling me he's at the bottom of that hole I saw.. that he's pulling me..?" The elf began to sweat again, and his eyes took on a somewhat feral look, akin to those which must be those of a rabbit which knows it's in someone's crosshairs. "This is not good Cwoss.." panted Roache. "This was something..godawful."
The Cleric closed his tome, watching the elf while replacing it carefully among the others in his pack. "If what you felt was bad San me old, it was not Corwin. If you're feeling some compulrion to run pell-mell towards that bloody hole, it has nothing to do with Corwin I assure you. He was good, as good as they get. A trifle mad perhaps, but without a trace of evil. Of that I assure you.."
The cleric filled his bowl again, and while lighting it, composed himself to recount what he'd scanned from his texts.
"Corwin was a Mountain Elf, of the High Caste. His place was earned and his fortune made with Llynfandel and the rst of the Hero's..he spent the rest of his life building up the Shire, from South to Top, it was all his doing. Lost his mind they say, when his gypsy mistress ran off with the Foul and his infant son was murdered, or kidnapped, isn't clear on that point because of a grease smudge, but you get the gist?"
The cleric reached for the book again and quickly found the page.."grease spot..yesterday's mutton I believe actually..and it was kidnapped. it definately says kidnapped."
Roache had warmed enough to shrug off the cloak, but still held his hands to the flames.
"I wish I could tell you what it was like having that...thing..in my mind. Like as though you've spent the night drinking with a woman you thought utterly enchanting, onlt to reach out in the dark to find your fingers sinking into maggots.."
"Interesting metaphor" mused the cleric. "It was then, unpleasant.?"
Roache shook his head lightly at his friend. "Evil. It was something I've never experienced before. Pure evil."
"Hmm..." Cwoss squinted into the flames for a moment. "There should be an old monestary about here somewhere..some old fellow of my Order still meant to be there.." He rummaged through his pack for a moment, coming out with an old hand-drawn map. Smoothing it on his lap he pointed..stiff fingered and said "there.. His name is Dovist the Hermit..makes sense since he's probably not seen a soul in a few days or so out here..the monestary's gone but he's apparently staying in an abandonned grist mill just down here.." He moved his finger from where he thought they were, to a point some three inches to the southwest. "Maybe some six or seven hours down the coast. If we left just before sunrise, we'd make it to the Inn.." Cwoss pointed at an obscure symbol on the map which in itself looked much like the lamb that had been left adorning the last text.."just about in time for lunch. The notes say they have good ale.
After a moment, Roache did too.